Medal gesture by ‘Mavis’ left John Baird in tears

John Baird is looking forward to facing Rangers in the Ramsdens Cup final. Picture: SNS
John Baird is looking forward to facing Rangers in the Ramsdens Cup final. Picture: SNS
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In an age when it seems no-one can do anything without being captured on camera phone, it is refreshing to be treated to small cameos that escaped public attention at the time.

When then St Mirren player Mark Reilly handed John Baird his 2005 Challenge Cup winners’ medal, it wasn’t a gesture designed to fill column inches or guarantee him maximum publicity.

Reilly simply recognised that his teenage team-mate who had just missed out on being named in the squad might appreciate the souvenir more than someone who already owned a Scottish Cup winners’ badge. The midfielder played all 90 minutes of Kilmarnock’s win over Falkirk in 1997. Reilly was then a second-half substitute when St Mirren defeated Hamilton Accies 2-1 eight years later. Even in this moment of triumph he was thinking of others who had missed out.

“How many games have you been involved in?” Reilly asked Baird, who was not stripped for the occasion, as the players celebrated on the pitch together at full-time. Baird told him how many.

“Right, take this,” said Reilly, who was known as “Mavis” by his team-mates, after the character in Coronation Street. He thrust his medal into the hands of the shocked Baird, who promptly burst out crying. Baird then paused momentarily, briefly thought about handing it back to Reilly, and then scurried up to the stand and handed the medal to his mum. “I didn’t feel I had earned it,” Baird explained yesterday. “But for ‘Mavis’ to give it to me was a big thing.

“I was only 19 and he didn’t need to do that,” he added. “He was 35 years old and it was his last season. It was his last cup final and for him to make the gesture meant a lot to me. I still have the medal in my cabinet at home. He played in a Scottish Cup final win for Kilmarnock and it meant a lot to him giving it to me because it showed you what he thought of me. I know how ‘Mavis’ is and he wouldn’t have given it to just anyone so that medal means more because of that.”

Now the Raith Rovers striker is hoping to secure a winners’ medal in the same competition thanks to his own efforts this weekend against Rangers. Although Baird did not play in 2005, he knows having been involved on the day itself that it is a significant occasion. Kick-off was delayed by half an hour to let the big crowd in, and this weekend’s final at Easter Road is already a sell-out.

Baird has good memories of the ground having scored his first Scottish Premier League goal v Hibs for Dundee last season. He struck three further times in the league and then, with the Dens Park club’s future uncertain amid takeover talks with American-based investors, he chose to accept the offer of a move to Partick Thistle, which meant he remained in the top flight – for a few months at least.

“It was a no-brainer,” he said. “I was a Glasgow boy, and Partick Thistle is ten minutes along the road.”

After signing a two-year contract, Baird had started only two league games when manager Alan Archibald told him that he didn’t feel the player fitted into his system. Baird remembers feeling “vulnerable”. He acknowledges that he had the security of a contract. However, what he most wanted was the prospect of playing regular games.

After his release from Partick he jumped at the opportunity to return to Raith, where he considers he has played his best football. Having not scored for Thistle at all in 17 appearances, mostly from the bench, he has struck six times already for Raith in just ten games, having scored 23 goals in over 70 games in his first stint at the club.

Much will be dependent on him on Sunday. Baird is already backing himself to score if the final goes to penalties. Now 28, the striker has a vague memory of Paul McStay missing the vital kick for Celtic when Raith won the Coca-Cola Cup in 1994.

“I spoke to our club photographer and he says if he gets new pictures to put up on the walls around the ground he will be happy to get the old boys off and the new ones on,” he said. “That’s what you have to aim for, and it would also mean beating the other half of the Old Firm. It would be massive.”

Baird played for both Rangers and Celtic at youth level before signing for Clyde. He has “no regrets” about his career, but only fully enjoys himself, he admits, when he is scoring goals. Whether Baird will hold on to his medal if Raith are successful this weekend only he knows. Perhaps there is a young player on the Kirkcaldy side’s bench who he feels would appreciate it more.

What Baird is most concerned about is making his family proud. “I have a ‘few’ coming through to the game,” he said. “My wife’s side and my side are coming,” he said. “Just the close family – about 20 or so. Brothers, and brothers-in-law and that. I have a minibus!”